Soldier in the Classroom
U.S. Army Specialist Tiffany Larriba held her hands in front of her, fingers closed, as children from Karabti San, Djibouti, waited in eager anticipation, January 3.
Suddenly, Larriba smiled and raised six fingers.
"Six," the children exclaimed in unison.
This was the children's second exposure to learning the English language through a program Larriba, a team member with the U.S. Army Civil Affairs Team 4902, 490th Civil Affairs Battalion and Dallas, Texas, native, calls: "Soldier in the Classroom." The program broadens the horizons of the children, while giving them a long-lasting memory of their relationship with U.S. soldiers. Karabti San is the first village to experience the program, which was introduced November 29. Larriba said she hopes to see Soldier in the Classroom introduced in other villages throughout Djibouti.
"We wanted the kids to remember us for something good," she said. "So we came up with this project where we go to schools or villages and teach some lesson they can't learn anywhere else. It's simple enough that the students understand, but yet it helps open their mind and leaves a standing memory."
Just as Karabti San is the first Djiboutian village to receive eco-dome materials and construction training from the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, it is also the first place to experience Soldier in the Classroom. Larriba hopes the participation she sees here will extend to other villages.
"They are all involved in it," she said. "Every kid [in the village], young or old, all came. They wanted to come. They made some pretty good progress."
According to Larriba, who is affectionately referred to by the children as "Lorouba," which means "cowgirl" in Somali, the progress will provide these children with opportunities previously unavailable.
"[We want to] help them see there is a big world out there and a lot of opportunities," she said. "That's our goal."
The children are not the only ones learning from this program. Larriba said her outlook on life has changed dramatically since coming to Africa and interacting with the local population. She hopes her friends and family back home will see the change in her and embrace it themselves.
"You can be happy with the smallest things, she said. "This village, for example -they're happy. You can live without a lot of things and still be happy."
Larriba said the happiness she shared with the children of Karabti San is compounded and reinforced with each new lesson, with every new number learned.
"It was good. I liked it all," said Mohamed Bourito, a student with Soldier in the Classroom. "We practice what Lorouba has taught us. After I learn the English language, I want to go to the school. I want to continue my education."
Bourito smiled broadly after sharing his dream for the future. He held up his hands and repeated what he had learned only minutes ago, from Larriba. Slowly, but surely, he counted to ten - in English.